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Am J Med Genet A. 2011 Dec;155A(12):2916-24. doi: 10.1002/ajmg.a.34357. Epub 2011 Oct 28.

Genomics really gets personal: how exome and whole genome sequencing challenge the ethical framework of human genetics research.

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Department of Pediatrics, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA.


Exome sequencing (ES) and whole genome sequencing (WGS) putatively identify all adverse functional alleles of protein-coding genes. Accordingly, while ES/WGS are transformative new tools for gene discovery in human and medical genetics research, they also generate new manifestations of ethical issues related to the consent process, data sharing, and return of results. These manifestations have yet to be comprehensively framed, due in part to the rapidity with which new technologies for ES/WGS are being applied and because of a lack of empirical data to provide guidance. Accordingly, researchers, funding agencies, and policy makers have largely dealt with these issues intuitively. We explain how use of ES/WGS challenges: (i) models under which informed consent is typically obtained; (ii) how harms associated with data sharing are considered; and (iii) the nature of obligations surrounding unanticipated findings. We provide broad guidance about interim ways to contend with these issues and make broad recommendations for areas for novel resource and policy development.

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